Israel is altering how it shares intelligence with the United States after President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russia in the Oval Office two weeks ago.
Trump, who was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, told both men about a believed threat from ISIS involving bombs buried inside of laptops. That information, the New York Times reported, came from Israel — something that was unconfirmed officially until Trump himself seemingly let it slip while speaking in Israel on Monday, ironically while attempting to defend himself on the issue to the media.
“I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel’. Never mentioned during that conversation,” Trump said. “They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel.’”
But Israeli officials seem concerned less about being named as the intelligence source and more about the information leaking in general. Intelligence officials reportedly shouted at their U.S. counterparts over the leak, worried that a vital source might have been compromised to Russia — notably an ally of Israel’s regional foe, Iran. Now, the country is taking steps to ensure that the problem doesn’t happen in future.
Israeli defense chief Avigdor Liberman reportedly announced the changes to Army Radio on Wednesday, but declined to delve into the specifics. “I can confirm that we did a spot repair and that there’s unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States,” Lieberman said.
Israel’s moves to restrict intelligence could be the shape of things to come in other corners of the globe. On the issue of intelligence-sharing, the Trump administration has proven erratic and unreliable — something that is increasingly alarming for U.S. allies.
For instance, following a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England on Monday night, British police refrained from naming a suspect while an investigation was underway — but their U.S. counterparts showed no such restraint. Media reports citing U.S. officials quickly leaked the suspect’s name, sparking concern across the pond. BuzzFeed News reported that both U.K. officials and other European counterterrorism experts were alarmed by the leaks.
“[U.K.] officials will have other priorities at the moment, but when the dust settles they will be concerned by the way in which British information was leaked by US officials, sometimes hours ahead of its confirmation,” Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the security think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Buzzfeed. “Police and intelligence officials would have had their reasons to hold back on key details, such as casualty figures and the method of attack, but this was impossible in a more international, free-wheeling media environment.”
A Belgian counterterrorism official who spoke with the publication noted that while allies of the United States are aware of the risk sharing information with the country poses, the Manchester leak was a particularly glaring red flag given recent spills by the Trump administration.
“You know you are trading the additional resources they bring for a chance of increased leaks,” the source said. “In this case, I suspect the Brits are livid — I know we would be — to have a suspect ID’d before they’re ready, and obviously the recent performance of the Trump administration on leaking sensitive information can’t be far from anyone’s mind if they examine [the situation].”
While experts have said the United Kingdom is unlikely to follow Israel’s lead in shifting how the country shares information with the United States, a pattern is quickly forming, one that could have long-term implications. Thomas Sanderson, the director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Guardian that both leaks could have serious ramifications for the future of U.S. intelligence.
“This is a leaky administration,” Sanderson said. “What does that mean for sharing information we need to going forward? The [United Kingdom] and Israel are probably our two biggest sources of intelligence. Now they’re thinking, ‘Is this going to cause us damage every time we share?’ Then you have to calculate every piece of information.”
If the transcript of a call last month between Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is any indicator, the administration’s loose lips could be a problem for some time. During the course of their conversation, Trump told Duterte about two U.S. nuclear submarines in Korean waters — comments that are adding even more fire to the debate over the president’s ability to handle sensitive information.